When I started writing for The Roanoke Star two and a half years ago, we were in quarantine and I only had my wife to talk to. But we already agree on a lot so I didn’t have to convince her of much. Our two-month-old son was around too, but I found his responses wanting.
I’ve been told I’m soft-spoken and though I do love listening, I’ve never felt like I talk all that much in social settings about current events. So, it’s interesting to think that in isolation I felt so lock-jawed that I had to let it out on paper, or the Internet, in this case.
Essays were my go-to genre as I became my own person in college, so I naturally continued them when I began writing seriously. In college, I wrote to convince myself of something I wanted to believe about the world, as critical of it as I was back then. Later, when I knew my essays would be read by others, they became persuasive but remained diatribes.
I didn’t know any better but to write without inhibitions. The anonymity of the internet allowed me to think I could and should say what I wanted and I took the lack of comments as leaving my readers speechless and in agreement with me.
Call it personal maturity or professional growth, but something has shifted in me since then. I’ll forever mark it at my 30th birthday, if it becomes as significant a checkpoint in my life as it feels now. My mother-in-law asked me what podcasts I listen to and she presciently summed them as “a lot of theology.” In my twenties, the podcasts undoubtedly would have been categorized as apologetics. The difference between the two is the difference between learning and persuading.
Perhaps to fulfill this inadvertent prophecy, but also because I truly tired of trying to get people to agree with me, I’ve been practicing learning. And then I write about it. As you might have noticed, my last four articles center around open-mindedness.
Previously, my temptation was to write what people liked because my manifestos didn’t seem to get a response. I got likes and comments on personal stories about work, buying a house, and the day-to-day. But I didn’t want to write such soft stuff; I wanted to write something that would correct my enemies.
Now, since 30, the temptation is to revert to persuasion. Anymore, I don’t think I can talk to my enemies, at least, not when I consider them so. So, I’m trying to model humility and respect through the page.
For example, I recently finished the third draft of a researched opinion article. In the editing phase, one proofreader got me to reword the entire piece with first-person pronouns instead of declarative statements. I was so convinced of my opinion I convinced myself it was fact. This third draft is certainly the most compelling, having admitted fact was opinion.
This article today is one more representative of the change I’m making; it’s not to convince anyone of anything. It’s a request to hold me accountable to live and write with a learner’s spirit. From there, perhaps I am my most persuasive.
– Scot Bellavia